In a shadowed alley, Krista, little Marie in tow, hurried to find refuge behind a large garbage container. Krista placed a finger to her lips in warning, staring at her daughter anxiously. Eyes round and warm as chocolate returned the serious gaze. They huddled together, frozen by fear. They ducked down, as the sound of the approaching car grew closer. When it had passed by without slowing, Krista straightened and smoothed the little girls’ hair with trembling hands. What were they doing here, crouched in this dark alley, fearing for their lives? Krista had a vague plan, one that involved seeking refuge at the sheriff’s office, but walking openly down the sidewalk was as dangerous as if they had stayed home.
Home. A word that should convey safety and comfort, it only caused Krista to shudder. And suddenly, she was back in the kitchen, cowering, as Hank raged. She shook her head, willing the painful recall away. She couldn’t think about that now. She had to focus. Survival. That was all that mattered. She had to get Marie and herself to a safe place.
Unbidden, her thoughts raced. How many nights had she lain awake, staring down at Hank’s slack figure sprawled on their bed? How many nights of choking back tears as she watched him sleep? How many nights of silently questioning who this man really was? He was her husband, but did she even know him at all? Understand him? Sometimes it seemed all she knew how to do was make him angry. She would have never guessed him to be controlling, authoritative, violent, when they were dating, although looking back, she realized, the signs were there.
The first time he had ever struck her shocked them both. Now, after being beaten down time and time again she was only shocked that she had finally found the courage to leave.
How many years of secrecy? Putting on the happy face for family and friends, teaching Marie that there were things they just didn’t talk about -- to anyone. How many times had she sent Marie to her room, cautioning her to be quiet, to stay put, no matter what?
The scene from earlier returned with a vengeance. Hank, disgusted and spent, had given her one last shove as he turned to leave the room. Only after she heard his snores from the bedroom did she rise from where she had fallen and go to check on her daughter.
It was what she had witnessed from Marie’s bedroom doorway that had done it. Not fully comprehending at first, she had watched as Marie, one arm poised as if to strike, bent over her doll. She was hissing words. Ugly words, words that Krista had just endured from Hank. Then, quickly, Marie’s role-play had changed and she was scooping up the doll, whispering, “Shhh! We don’t talk about this.”
Awash in crushing grief at this disturbing revelation, Krista faced her moment of truth. She had acted quickly. An overnight bag in which she shoved only what they would need for the next day. Money. Car keys. There wasn’t time for anything else. She was counting the minutes, gauging how much time she had and how far she could get.
Hank’s rages followed a definite pattern: Anger. Violence. Exhaustion. Sleep. She knew she didn't have much time before he would awaken, demanding her presence. What would follow next would be the manipulative apologies, warnings about keeping the secret and finally, sexual domination, Hank’s version of making up.
They had made it only a few blocks when her car had sputtered to a stop, it’s flashing fuel light mocking her. She knew he would come looking. Panicked, she had unbuckled Marie from her car seat. He would see the abandoned car. She couldn’t waste time. They had taken to the streets on foot.
Now, Krista rose from the kneeling position her body was cramped in. Marie followed obediently without being told. As Krista sought out Marie’s face in the shadows, it was Marie who raised her finger to her lips and made the shushing sound.
Fighting the tears, Krista swallowed hard. With a strength she had not previously known, she squared her shoulders, resolutely taking Marie’s small hand. She would get them to safety. She would teach Marie new rules. There would be no more secrets. And she would never say, “Shhh” again.
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